Jesus teaches about prayer in Matthew 6:5-15.
The first couple of verses (5-6) are about our motivation for prayer. He gives an example of the wrong way to pray and then he gives instructions on the right way to pray.
Jesus illustrates the wrong way to pray by telling how “hypocrites” prayed. I assume He calls them hypocrites because of the way they were praying—pretending to have a close relationship with God when what they really wanted was the admiration of men.
These religious people would find the most public place available—the local synagogue or a street corner—and they would stand there and pray. I don’t know if they prayed aloud or if they piously closed their eyes and prayed silently. It really doesn’t matter because their purpose for praying was to be seen by the people around them.
Jesus says that is the wrong motivation. He also says they received their full reward by praying like that. They were after people’s attention and admiration and possibly to upgrade their religious reputation, and that’s the reward they received.
But that was all. God apparently doesn’t reward that kind of prayer.
Next Jesus gives us some instructions on the right way to pray.
I love what the Amplified Bible says—“. . . go into your [most] private room” and close the door. This is such a polar opposite of where the hypocrites prayed – in the most public arena they could find. This description suggests a very intimate relationship and conversation.
Then He says to pray to your invisible Father – which makes me wonder who the hypocrites were praying to. Or if it even registered as a prayer at all in God’s opinion.
Jesus says if you pray to God like this—in secret, where no one else sees you—your Father in Heaven sees you and will reward you.
Let’s see . . . Man’s Approval and Attention or Rewards from God. I’ll take Rewards from God for $200, Alex.
– What is my overall motivation for prayer: my reputation with people or my relationship with God?
– When did I last pray like a hypocrite—saying something to impress the people listening?
– What was my reward?
– Where is my private place to pray?
– How often to I go there?
Matthew 6:5-6 Amplified Bible (AMP)
5 Also when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward in full already.
6 But when you pray, go into your [most] private room, and, closing the door, pray to your Father, Who is in secret; and your Father, Who sees in secret, will reward you in the open.